Shooting my first roll of expired film

One of the first rolls of film I exposed from the box of expired 35mm film I received last year is a 36-exposure cartridge of Fujichrome PROVIA 400F Professional [RHP III]. Fujichrome PROVIA 400F was a high-quality colour reversal film manufactured by Fujifilm. It was known for its excellent colour reproduction, fine grain, and sharpness, making it a popular choice among professional photographers. With a sensitivity of ISO 400, this film was ideal for shooting in low light conditions or for capturing fast-moving subjects. The film’s advanced emulsion technology was known to produce vibrant colours and accurate skin tones, making it a popular choice for fashion and advertising photography. I did not know what to expect from a 10-year-old cartridge.

I didn’t think much about what it means to expose expired 35mm film. I loaded the cartridge in my Pentax P3n, and despite the cold weather, I hopped on my e-bike and headed off to Rocky Hill, a nearby borough in New Jersey.

Van Horne Park Trail · Wednesday14 December 2022 · Pentax P3nSMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

The sun shone brightly overhead, but I could still feel the cold as I set off on Salisbury Road towards the western end of Blue Spring Road. It was still early morning as I pedalled through the quiet residential streets of my neighbourhood. Just before entering the borough of Rocky Hill, I stopped on Princeton Avenue to expose a few frames before continuing along the more scenic route, passing through Van Horne Park.

Van Horne Park · Wednesday14 December 2022 · Pentax P3nSMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

Rocky Hill was incorporated in 1890 and has a rich history dating back to the colonial era. It was an important transportation hub during the Revolutionary War and was once home to the Van Horne estate, now a public park. Van Horne Park offers a variety of amenities, such as walking paths, playgrounds, sports fields, and picnic areas.

Today, Rocky Hill is a quiet residential community with a small-town feel. It has a few local businesses, including a general store, a post office, and a few restaurants.

Main Street · Wednesday14 December 2022 · Pentax P3nSMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

After leaving the park, I continued along Washington Road, a long stretch of a historic route that cuts through the heart of Rocky Hill. One of the most distinctive features of Washington Road is its historic homes and buildings. Many houses along the street were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and have been preserved as part of Rocky Hill’s history. Some of the most notable buildings along Washington Road include the historic Rocky Hill Inn, which dates back to the early 1700s and now operates as a restaurant, and the Rocky Hill Schoolhouse, which was built in 1865 and is now home to the Rocky Hill Historical Society.

First Reformed Church of Rocky Hill · Wednesday14 December 2022 · Pentax P3nSMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

Originally built as a private residence, the Rocky Hill Inn building was converted into a tavern in the 1800s and has since operated as an American gastropub. The inn has been beautifully restored and retains many original features, including wide-plank flooring and exposed brick walls. It is a popular spot for locals, offering a cosy rural, small-town atmosphere, delicious food (my favourite is Fish n’ Chips with a crisp pilsner), and a wide selection of beer and wine.

Rocky Hill Inn · Wednesday14 December 2022 · Pentax P3nSMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

I turned off Washington Road, arriving at Crescent Avenue, a quiet road I often photograph due to its tree-lined sidewalks and charming historic homes. Many houses on the street were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and have been carefully preserved. The homes’ architecture varies, ranging from Victorian and colonial-style homes to modern designs.

Crescent Avenue turns into River Road at the southeastern border with Montgomery Township. River Road head south toward the historic town of Kingston. It connects to the other end of Blue Spring Road in a loop that takes me back toward my home.

Crescent Avenue – Expired · Wednesday14 December 2022 · Pentax P3nSMC Pentax-A 50mm F2

I think the opportunity to take photographs with expired 35mm film was a unique touch of nostalgia and vintage charm.

I exposed the Fujichrome PROVIA 400F at box speed. After I sent the film off for development, I read that the wisdom on the web is that expired film should be exposed at a lower ISO, one-stop every ten years after it expires and that the film should also be pulled during development. I understand it just a bit, but I am stumped about what camera ISO or exposure compensation settings I should have used and what instructions to give the development lab.

It was too late to”correct my potential mistake. I sent the cartridge off to Boutique Film Lab and waited. When the slides arrived, I nervously scanned them with VueScan using my Epson Perfection V600. As I watched the previews, my confidence grew. My efforts were not wasted.

I added camera and lens meta-data and imported the images to Adobe Lightroom. I was excited when I saw that the scans produced usable photos. I was even more excited when the images improved further in Adobe Lightroom when I adjusted the exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadow sliders.

I am so excited. This worked out better than I expected. While the colours are muted, almost all of the images are usable. This post includes the ones I consider the best of the 36 exposures. A few frames are underexposed, but I think that is primarily because of operator error (i.e. me). I have five more cartridges of expired Fujichrome PROVIA 400F, and I am excited to use them all.

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6 thoughts on “Shooting my first roll of expired film”

  1. Paul Mulherin

    Great article with a nice bit of history with your photos! I’ve always loved the colours of Fujifilm and I think Provia 400 was always quite muted when compared with say, Superia X-Tra 400.

    I haven’t shot a roll of film since before the first UK Covid Lockdown in March 2020 and so I have a fridge full of B&W and colour film that’s probably recently expired or is close to expiring. I lost all love for photography (and didn’t even shoot any digital photos until last weekend).

    Seeing your results with 10-year old expired film has really heartened me and made me think now that those rolls in may still actually be usable!

    I shall try to get out and shoot some film again soon and may even try and share my results here. 🙂

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and genuine enthusiasm for the article!

      I completely understand the feeling of losing touch with photography during challenging times like the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s not uncommon for our passions to take a back seat when life gets overwhelming. However, I’m happy to hear that the results I shared with the expired film have inspired you and given you hope that your own film rolls might still be usable. It’s always worth exploring and experimenting, even with expired film cartridges, as you never know what surprises may await you.

  2. Covid was kind of a boom time for photos for me. Extra time available and no crowds. Anyway, finding a lab that can do reliable pull- and push-processing is kind of a roll of the dice. Even rarer is one that can predict results with expired film given all the variables in storage. That said, it is an attractive set of photos but the few rolls of P400F that I shot were sharper and more vividly colored without sliding into exaggeration. Even so, I wouldn’t mind having a couple of rolls in my freezer to try out.

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